Mariana Sarraute’s pictorial work is the result of ritualistic processes carried out in an effort to seek new forms of expression, parallel to a spiritual exploration. Kabbalah and alchemy are references that permeate the artist’s recent practice and, in the case of this exhibition, are articulated through a reinterpretation of some images and symbols belonging to the frescoes of San Clement de Tahull, which can be found in the MNAC in Barcelona. Combining naturalistic features from the Mozarabic Hispanic tradition with influences from Byzantine Italy, Tahull’s icons represent various biblical narratives including the passage of the Apocalypse. Commonly misunderstood as “destruction or end”, the etymology of this word is similar to Apocçalupsis which means revelation, discovery and the beginning of something new. Thus, by engaging with this theme, the works embody the manifestation of a symbolic, hidden and encrypted knowledge.
“Updates” is one of those anglicisms that have acquired a double meaning due to the advance of the technological society. “Actualizaciones” in Spanish, refers to the computer language with which Sarraute is familiar through her work as a web developer. As the artist indicates, programming invades her painting in that it transposes the synthetic of the code she uses to generate a web page, in concise brush’s gestures. The canvases that constitute these Updates reflect Sarraute’s interest in creating layers of colour with pigments whose stability varies and changes colour, depending on the perspective from which they are observed. Powerful colours such as mother-of-pearl, iridescent or metallic shades give vitality and strength to the gestures and symbols printed on the canvas, some of which are repeated in different moments. As the choreographer Yvonne Rainer pointed out, “if something is complex, repetition gives people more time to assimilate it”. Sarraute’s pictorial technique brings these elements together to generate a space within the painting that is deep, light and transparent, codes resulting from a process of contemplation and revelation.
Esōtéró comes from the Greek which can be translated as “that which is innermost”, so esotericism could be said to be the doctrine that deals with the intimate. Alternative spirituality has greatly influenced the way in which modern art has developed and has maintained its impact on contemporary artistic practice. In this way, Sarraute’s practice is part of a tradition to which other artists such as Hilfa af Klint, Emma Kunz and Agnes Martin belong. In modern Western culture, interaction with psychic planes has been considered a sensitive subject. Within a traditional Christian framework, this interaction had to be tamed through ecclesiastical control. At the same time, in a post-Enlightenment context, the existence of mysticism has been rejected. However, the current capitalist paradigm is giving rise to a strong resurgence of spiritual progress, giving artists who channel its forms a very active role as modifiers and producers of contemporary sensibility.
Despite the necessary materiality of artistic creation, art that originates from a connection with spiritual symbology and which is invisible within the being, moves on an ideological substratum that is in the whole universe and which, according to Plato, is the only true reality. In this context, the essence of the work of art shifts from the material object to the idea manifested in it. By creating a window into the interior, into symbols and ancient myths, Sarraute’s way of painting gives a very important role to the imaginative activity of the perceiver. This constructive role evokes the historian Dario Gamboni’s approach to the “potential image”, an image that depends on the state of mind of the viewer in order to be fully realised.
Dario Gamboni, Potential Images: Ambiguity and Indeterminancy in Modern Art, 2002. Reaktion Books, London.
Yvonne Rainer, Feelings are Facts: a life, 2006. The MIT Press, Massachusetts.
Cristina Ramos, researcher and art curator